First Lines Friday

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

It was a night so dusky the streetlamps looked like fallen stars. A night seized by a fierce frost, which crept up the spires of Prague until they glimmered like diamond stalagmites, then inched across the Vltava River until its entire surface was as smooth as marble. It was a night that would bear a new small life. And, alas, a smidge of death.

Any ideas?

Goodreads Synopsis:

Ema Vašková has always felt different. In a family of famous scientists, there’s not much room for superstition or omens – but they seem to follow Ema wherever she goes. It doesn’t help that she appears to predict events before they happen, and has a peculiar fear of shadows . . . When Ema is sent to stay with her eccentric uncle in Prague, she fears she’ll lose the chance to ever fit in. But then she meets Silvie – a girl who finally sees Ema for the extraordinary person that she is. Soon the girls are meeting for secret midnight adventures, and facing Ema’s fears together. But then disaster strikes. Silvie goes missing – and it’s up to Ema to find her. Now she must gather the courage to hunt the city, find her friend, and uncover the secrets of the one clue Silvie left as to where she might be – inside the mysterious Midnight Guild . . .

Blog Tour: My Friend the Octopus

Written by Lindsay Galvin
Cover and interior illustration by Gordy Wright
Cover and interior design by Steve Wells
Published by Chicken House Books

I read Darwin’s Dragons earlier this year, and loved it so much that I read it as a class read aloud to my Year 6 class who were spellbound by it.  My Friend the Octopus was, therefore, an eagerly anticipated read, and I can confirm that it is just as enthralling a story:  an utterly gripping Victorian mystery with the most heart-warming bond between a young girl and her octopus friend at its core.

Twelve-year-old Vinnie Fyfe is the daughter of a high-society milliner who is woken in the middle of the night by her mother to take a trip under mysterious circumstances.  Soon, she finds herself separated from her mother for the first time – left in Brighton with her Aunt Bets who runs a popular tea-shop at Brighton aquarium – whilst her mother takes a business trip to Paris.

When her aunt sends her on an errand, Vinnie finds herself in another world, the awe-inspiring world of the aquarium, where she longs to draw the incredible creatures, and where she witnesses the arrival of something that will change her life in the most wonderful and unimaginable way …

Vinnie is introduced to the newest, crowd-drawing arrival at the aquarium:  a giant octopod.  Even though this devil fish frightens Vinnie at first, she is also fascinated by her.  I adored the heartachingly beautiful bond that forms between Vinnie and the octopus she names Ghost, who is playful, intelligent and a master of disguise who communicates with Vinnie through colour.  I loved learning so many fascinating facts about this awe-inspiring creature and thought it was wonderful that the story is divided into three sections, named after the three hearts of an octopus.

Vinnie’s two worlds collide when her London life is brought unexpectedly into focus when she is visited by a former employee of her mother, Mr Jedders, who becomes a blight on her new life.  What unfinished business does he have with her mother?  Why hasn’t Vinnie had any correspondence from Paris?  Could there be something more sinister to her mother’s disappearance? 

Soon, Vinnie and her friends, Charlie and Temitayo, find themselves thrown into a mystery that leads them into terrible danger and unexpected discoveries as they work together to uncover the truth behind her mother’s sudden disappearance. 

I wished I had three hearts like an octopus. 

Then maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much if one got broken.

Vinnie is the most wonderful young girl who has been brought up by a mother who shows her affection, but who is also controlling, expecting Vinnie to follow her choices.  She has led a very sheltered life, focussed on supporting her mother in her millinery enterprise and obeying her wishes.  When she moves to Brighton, she is given much more freedom and, whilst wary of this at first, I love the joy she takes from new experiences such as cycling, sea-bathing and drawing creatures which makes her feel more alive.  Vinnie shows incredible strength and tremendous courage to make her own choices, standing up for herself and what she believes in, despite the pain this causes.  I adored Vinnie’s relationship with Aunt Bets who is warm-hearted, honest and gregarious, encouraging Vinnie to ‘get doing’, to not be scared to make mistakes to help her learn and to enjoy new experiences. 

This story gives both a fascinating and horrifying insight into Victorian Society with the popularity of seaside resorts and aquariums; interest in natural history; the entrenched racism; colonisation; class and gender divisions; the influence of mass media; and, the terrible working and living conditions suffered by many in slums and backstreet workshops. These insights would open so many opportunities for discussion in a classroom as, of course, would finding out more about octopuses.  As a teacher, this is a story I would be very excited to use as a class text for English as it has such rich opportunities for enhancing the curriculum.  I’m already coming up with so many ideas!

I just have to mention how gorgeous this book looks!  The inside covers have fantastic images related to Brighton Aquarium and octopuses; the chapter headings have beautiful drawings of sea creatures; there are newspaper articles; and, factual information related to the Victorians, Brighton Aquarium and octopuses – and even a recipe! 

My Friend the Octopus is an unmissable, heartfelt story of friendship, courage and being true to yourself that is perfect for readers of 9+ who are guaranteed to be endlessly entranced by this exceptional story.

Thank you so much to Laura Smythe and Chicken House Books for inviting me to be part of the Blog Tour, and for providing me with a finished copy in exchange for my honest opinion. 

WWW Wednesday

I’ve had a ridiculously busy week and very little sleep so I’ve not picked a book up to read since the weekend. I am, however, listening to Noah’s Gold to and from my drive to work. Wow! Firstly, I absolutely LOVE the narration – it’s just so lovely to listen to an Irish accent – taking me home! And I hadn’t realised this was set in Northern Ireland – so lovely to hear places which are familiar to me mentioned in a story. And then, there’s the story! Noah is so incredibly likeable. This is such a feel good, wonderfully funny story and is exactly what I need now.

I finished listening to the audiobook of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which is surreal and genuinely brilliant. I absolutely loved this which would have made me throw my arms in the air a lot (if I hadn’t been driving!) and had me both giggling and confused! I think I definitely need to had to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I also read The Dragon in the Bookshop which I really enjoyed – I will be posting my review as part of the Blog Tour soon. Finally, I read something from my towering bookcases. The Last Firefox is a gorgeous story suited to younger readers which has some wonderful messages about finding inner strength and self-belief. The main character, Charlie, has two dads: I loved this representation of family which is so great to see in stories for younger readers.

This might be ambitious, but I’m hoping to have both of these read by next Wednesday!

What are you reading? Have you read any of these?

First Lines Friday

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

My mother says that until the lions have their own storytellers, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. She has a proverb to suit most situations. She says that proverbs are ‘jewels from the ancestors’ to guide us through the challenges of life.

Any ideas?

I love mystery stories and this one, set in Georgian London, sounds so good!

Goodreads Synopsis

Twelve-year-olds Lizzie Sancho and Dido Belle are from different worlds – Lizzie lives in Westminster in her dad’s tea shop, while Belle is an heiress being brought up by her aunt and uncle at grand Kenwood House – but they both share a love of solving mysteries. And when their eyes meet in the audience of the Drury Lane theatre one night, both girls are sure they’ve seen something suspicious on stage. Lizzie and Belle soon find themselves on the trail of a mystery – and becoming best friends. But can they work out what’s going on in time to prevent a murder? 

Cover Reveal, GIVEAWAY and Extract: The Book of Stolen Dreams

Today, I’m excited to share the stunning paperback cover image (by Kristina Kister) for the brilliant The Book of Stolen Dreams which is being released on 1st September.

You can read my review of this unmissable adventure here.

In order to whet your appetite, you can enjoy reading an extract below:

#GIVEAWAY : You can also go to my pinned tweet (@marysimms72) to enter a giveaway to win a hardback copy of this stunning book which will be sent to the winner by the Publisher.

MG Takes on Thursday

This is my weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books, now with a re-vamped banner!

How to take part:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence. 
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week, I’m celebrating …

Written by Hannah Moffatt
Illustrated by Rory Walker
Published by Everything with Words

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

When Mr Ogg said he didn’t like Smalls, he meant he didn’t like humans.

This book in three words:

FUNNY, FRIENDSHIP, GIANTS

Small! is BIG on hilarity, heart and hope – with a good dollop of yuckiness, smelliness and zaniness.  A tasty treat of an adventure which delighted me, grossed me out ever so slightly and left me with a giant grin! 

On his tenth birthday, Harvey Small gets an odd collection of presents:  a pair of stilts, too-long dungarees and a too-big top hat!  Could this be connected to his recent move to live near a swamp and his GIANT visitor?  Well, that’s a definite ‘yes’ as Harvey finds that his Mum has enrolled him in Madame Bogbrush’s School for Gifted Giants as a boarder.  Will he be able to maintain his disguise and prove himself a gifted giant?  Let’s hope so as, if he’s rumbled, he’s in real danger of being stomped into a sandwich as giants do not like Smalls (a.k.a humans). 

Harvey has had to move schools a lot since his mum and dad split up, something for which he blames himself, making it hard for him to find friends.  Imagine his delight when, for the first time at a new school, he is welcomed by a student who is excited to meet him.  Could he possibly have found a friend in Walloping Toenail?  Of course, there is the small matter that his classmates enjoy Small-bashing – with clubs! 

Just as Harvey is settling in, making a friend, and getting used to a timetable of stomping, clobbering and grunting, not to mention a rather unique menu, their Headteacher, Mrs Mahoosive, brings news to make him quake in his stomping boots.  The Beastly School Board is sending an inspector … is Harvey in danger of having his disguise uncovered?  And, what if he is not the only gifted giant in danger?  Will he be able to save himself and a classmate?

Oh my goodness!  This was such a brilliant read with oodles of giggles, a mystery to solve, a sense of danger, and unexpected twists and revelations.   I can just imagine how much joy children will get from reading this independently or having it read aloud.  There is a real sense of playfulness from the names, the school activities and food, the many opportunities for mishaps and mayhem not to mention olfactory overload and the swamp goblins!  Alongside this, there is a real depth and warmth in the building of friendships, support and trust.

I loved the inclusion of the Timetables, the School Inspectors Reports, the capitalisation and bold text.  I also adored the gorgeous illustrations sprinkled throughout the text which are guaranteed to bring a smile, and complement the story perfectly.  All of these elements make this a really accessible read.

But even the scariest things aren’t quite as scary with a best friend by your side.

Harvey Small is an incredibly sympathetic young boy.  He feels a failure:  failing at school, failing at friendship, and failing at keeping his parents together.  He gets his first taste of real friendship when he meets the endearing, kind-hearted, curious Walloping Toenail and the two form a wonderful bond.  This bond makes Harvey feel like a giant, giving him the strength, courage and self-belief to face danger, and reveal truths – and blue underpants!

Small! fizzes with warmth, humour and acceptance – guaranteed to be a GIANT hit with young readers of 8+.

Thank you to Mikka at Everything with Words for providing me with a proof copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

I’d love if anyone who wants to give this meme a go would comment in the comments box and include a link to your post so I can visit, comment and find some great middle-grade recommendations. If you do create a post and are on Twitter, and would like to share your post, please use the hashtag  #MGTakesOnThursday so I can find it, read it and share it!

WWW Wednesday

I’ve just started listening to The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – I think this is one I’ll enjoy. I’m still reading The Blackthorn Branch, but have not got as far as I thought I would as I picked up The Last Firefox on a whim, and have continued to read it as it is just the fun, easy read I need now.

I had a nightmare after watching Stranger Things so woke up at 4am and decided read Race to the Frozen North which tells the story of Matthew Henson which is a brilliant novella from Barrington Stoke. This is one I’m thinking about using with Year 6. I also read Small! which was a really fun read with plenty of humour. I will be posting my review shortly. I finished listening to Starboard which I absolutely loved – think this might now be my favourite Nicola Skinner book. I really loved the whole concept of the SS Great Britain taking Kirsten, a reality star who is no longer popular, on a journey to find truths about herself. I really enjoyed the interactions between Kirsten, the ship, the map and the mannequins. The ending was so wonderful – I was definitely choking up.

I was lucky enough to have been sent a proof copy of The Mermaid Call which sounds wonderful, so I’m hoping to pick it up next.

What are you reading? Have you read any of these?

First Lines Friday

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

It was the first day of autumn when I came to Blackbird Castle, the trees copper and green, pumpkins growing along the ditch by the side of the road, a moon like a lidded silver eye already visible in the evening sky – in short, an excellent day for a witch to return to her ancestral home. But of course I knew nothing of witches then.

Any ideas?

Goodreads Synopsis:

When a scarecrow climbs over the garden wall, delivering twelve-year-old orphan Zita Brydgeborn a letter saying she has inherited a distant castle, she jumps at the chance of adventure. But little does she know that she is about to be thrust into a centuries-old battle between good and evil. Blackbird Castle was once home to a powerful dynasty of witches, all of them now dead under mysterious circumstances. Zita is the last of her line. And Zita, unfortunately, doesn’t know the first thing about being a witch. As she begins her lessons in charms and spells with her guardian, Mrs. Cantanker, Zita makes new allies—a crow, a talking marble head, two castle servants just her age named Bram and Minnifer, and the silent ghost of a green-eyed girl. But who is friend and who is foe? Zita must race to untangle her past and find the magic to save the home she’s always hoped for. Because whatever claimed the souls of her family is now after her.

MG Takes on Thursday

This is my weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books, now with a re-vamped banner!

How to take part:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence. 
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week, I’m celebrating …

Written by Ewa Jozefkowicz
Illustrations: Anna Hymas
Published by Zephyr

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

I picked up the rug and folded it, then offered her my arm to lead her back inside.

This book in three words:

FRIENDSHIP, EMPATHY, COURAGE

Girl 38 is a sensitively and beautifully written story that perfectly weaves the past into the present, and shows how empathising with past events can impact on present ones, how learning about the bravery of others can lead to the strength to change our own path.  Both the past and the present stories within this book captured me completely, and I found the impact Ania’s story had on Kat really powerful, heart-warming and hopeful.

Girl 38 is the courageous comic strip heroine created by Kat, a heroine that she wishes she could be more like as she is finding her own reality difficult to deal with.  Kat has been friends with Gem ever since their first day at school, but theirs is a toxic friendship as Gem is controlling and manipulative with Kat constantly on edge, trying to keep her happy and going along with her plans, even when they make her feel uneasy.  Kat feels under constant pressure to do whatever Gem wants, desperate not to have her turn her bullying attention on her the way she has on others. 

One day, Kat helps her elderly Polish neighbour, Ania Jankowski after a fall.  She feels an instant rapport with her and they soon develop a warm relationship as Ania shares her painting of her best friend Mila from many years previously.  Kat’s interest is immediately piqued and Ania agrees to tell her about her past.  I loved how their relationship developed so that Kat was eventually able to open up to Ania to share her own problems and to seek comfort and strength in their friendship and in Ania’s story.

Ania’s story is woven throughout the narrative, and is one of incredible daring, determination and courage.  Ania lived in Poland during the Second World War.  She watched her friend Mila being taken away.  She had promised she would find her friend, and it is a promise which she intended keeping, no matter what.  I was really eager for Kat to visit Ania so that I could learn more of her incredible story, and I can absolutely see how listening to Ania’s inspirational story gave Kat the courage to face her fears, just like her heroine, Girl 38.

Just after Kat starts visiting Ania, a new boy, Julius, starts at Kat’s school and he soon attracts the attention of Gem who wants to teach him a lesson for taking the attention away from her.  She ropes Kat into helping her and, even though she doesn’t want to and knows she shouldn’t, Kat goes along with her plans which get more and more humiliating for Julius.  As Kat learns more of Ania’s history, will she have the courage and strength to stand up for herself, to be open and honest and to allow herself the opportunity to develop a healthy friendship?  Can she become the heroine of her own future?

The depiction of the relationships in this story felt incredibly genuine from the toxic relationship between Gem and Kat to the growing friendship between her and Julius and her warm relationship with Ania.  Even though Gem is certainly a bully, I liked that the author gave an insight into her insecurity which may go some way to explaining, but not excusing, her bullying.

This is a story that truly captured my heart:  I was completely invested in both Ania’s and Kat’s stories, and enjoyed how Ania’s story impacted on Kat’s present and helped her face up to a difficult situation, changing her future. 

I’d love if anyone who wants to give this meme a go would comment in the comments box and include a link to your post so I can visit, comment and find some great middle-grade recommendations. If you do create a post and are on Twitter, and would like to share your post, please use the hashtag  #MGTakesOnThursday so I can find it, read it and share it!

WWW Wednesday

I’m reading The Blackthorn Branch which I’m really enjoying. I love stories with the Fair Folk and these are definitely out to cause trouble! I’m really enjoying the audiobook of Starboard– the narrator is great. I’m loving the idea of the SS Great Britain coming to life and heading out to sea with waning reality star, Kirsten and her former best friend. Kirsten is the reluctant captain of the ship which intends to head to New York. This is great fun and so inventive.

I’ve finished reading Kiki Kallira Conquers a Curse and have posted my review. I really enjoyed this which is such a great adventure based on Hindu mythology. Kiki has anxiety and OCD and this is addressed brilliantly by the author. I also read My Friend the Octopus which is the second book I’ve read by this author. I adored Darwin’s Dragon and have read it to my class. My Friend the Octopus is such a brilliant mystery! The friendship which grows between the octopus, Ghost, and Vinnie is gorgeous. I learned so much about these wonderful creatures. I also read Ghost and Bone which I’ve had on my bookshelf for ages. Oscar Grimstone works in an undertakers and has the ability to transform into a ghost. When he meets another ghost in a skeleton carriage, a dark adventure begins where he visits the city of ghosts which overlays our own world. This definitely has some scary moments and some details that might be quite horrific for younger readers, but it completely gripped me and I read it in a single sitting. I loved finding out why Oscar can switch between being living and being a ghost. This does remind me a little of Pratchett.

I’m hoping to read Small! next, and I’ll probably pick up an adult book too, but I’m not sure what yet – maybe The Leviathan, The Sanitorium or The House on the Cerulean Sea!

What are you reading? Have you read any of these?